AP Courses: Good or Bad?
The U.S. is spending a lot of money on expanding AP course taking. The article, “Louisiana gets federal money to help poor kids take AP tests for free,” notes that Louisiana received $158,085 to cover the costs of administering advancement tests to low-income high school students. This was part of $28.8 million in grants to 42 states to cover fees charged low-income students for taking advanced placement tests.
The Politico article, “Advanced Placement classes failing students,” notes that taxpayers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years to nudge more students into Advanced Placement classes, but that test scores suggests much of the investment has been wasted.
Based on the data contained in the annual College Board report, “AP Report to the Nation,” students from certain racial groups and socioeconomic backgrounds do not perform well on the AP exams. While there are many possible explanations, the undeniable reality is that students who attend high poverty schools or schools with high minority student populations (which are typically high poverty schools) have teachers who are not as experienced in teaching AP courses or preparing students to score highly on the AP exams. Another problem is that the students themselves, may not have adequate preparation for AP level course work nor do they have experience achieving high scores on the AP exams. After all, how do students perform well in college-level course work if their regular high school teachers are less experienced and their regular high school classes are less rigorous?
Additional components that are missing are:
- Lack of adequate support from teachers and fellow students to transition from the normal course requirements in their high schools to the necessary level of academic rigor to perform successfully on AP exams
- Lack of study groups to support learning beyond the classroom
- Lack of adequate preparation for AP exams
- Lack of supplemental materials
The problem is not that AP classes are failing students, but that schools are engaging in inadequate planning for how to ensure student success in such classes. Perhaps, as President Obama is attempting to hold colleges accountablefor their results, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan should hold states accountable for their AP exam performance results. The Sacramento Bee article, “Math, science program sees big improvement on AP tests,” provides an example what why must accompany the push to enroll students into AP courses:
“The pass rate on rigorous Advanced Placement tests went up by 72 percent last year at high schools that took part in a National Math and Science Initiative program that trains teachers and gives students extra help.”
The article goes on to note that the program includes extensive teacher training, a mentor for each teacher throughout the school year and help for students in Saturday sessions. The article also notes that the pass rate on AP math, science and English exams for participating schools increased by 72 percent compared to 7 percent nationwide.
The bottom line…
If your high school offers AP level courses, selective colleges and universities are going to hold you accountable for taking the classes to demonstrate your willingness to challenge yourself. If your AP teachers are not very good, then you are going to have to find a tutor and supplemental materials to ensure your success, as the colleges you apply to are either going to know your AP exam scores or question why you did not submit them if the AP classes are reflected on your high school transcript.
Here is exactly what will happen:
- Colleges that you apply to will request a high school profile from your high school counselor. The profile will list the types of classes offered in your high school (which includes any AP classes), along with average SAT and ACT scores.
- Colleges will ask your counselor if your course taking was highly rigorous, rigorous, or on level.
- Colleges will compare the number of AP classes you took against the number of AP classes offered in your high school.
- Colleges will review your course grades in your AP classes and your AP exam scores.
Colleges, however, will not ask you if your AP teachers were any good, if the classes that you took in preparation for AP level classes were any good, of if the students in your AP classes were any good. So the bottom line is that you will have do what you have to do to be successful, which may mean:
- Identifying a tutor
- Identifying supplemental materials
- Creating study groups
- Taking personal responsibility to ensure that you are adequately prepared to score 3 or higher on the AP exam for each AP class that you take
You may view this as being unfair, however, it is what it is.